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The cervix is part of the female reproductive system, which also includes the fallopian tubes, uterus (womb), ovaries, vagina (birth canal) and vulva (external genitals).
Also called the neck of the uterus, the cervix connects the uterus to the vagina. The cervix:
- produces moisture to lubricate the vagina, which keeps the vagina healthy
- opens to let menstrual blood pass from the uterus into the vagina
- produces mucus that helps sperm travel up the uterus and fallopian tubes to fertilise an egg that has been released from the ovary
- holds a developing baby in the uterus during pregnancy by remaining closed, then widens to let a baby be born through the vagina.
The cervix has an outer surface that opens into the vagina (ectocervix) and an inner surface that lines the cervical canal (endocervix). These two surfaces are covered by two types of cells:
Squamous cells – flat, thin cells that cover the outer surface of the cervix (ectocervix). Cancer of the squamous cells is called squamous cell carcinoma.
Glandular cells – column-shaped cells that cover the inner surface of the cervix (cervical canal or endocervix). Cancer of the glandular cells is called adenocarcinoma.
The area where the squamous cells and glandular cells meet is known as the transformation zone. This is where most cervical cancers start.
Understanding Cervical CancerDownload resource
This information is reviewed by
This information was last reviewed in September 2019 by the following expert content reviewers: A/Prof Penny Blomfield, Gynaecological Oncologist, Hobart Women’s Specialists, and Chair, Australian Society of Gynaecological Oncologists, TAS; Karina Campbell, Consumer; Carmen Heathcote, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Queensland; Dr Pearly Khaw, Consultant Radiation Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; A/Prof Jim Nicklin, Director, Gynaecological Oncology, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, and Associate Professor Gynaecologic Oncology, The University of Queensland; Prof Martin K Oehler, Director, Gynaecological Oncology, Royal Adelaide Hospital, SA; Dr Megan Smith, Program Manager – Cervix, Cancer Council NSW; Pauline Tanner, Cancer Nurse Coordinator – Gynaecology, WA Cancer & Palliative Care Network, WA; Tamara Wraith, Senior Clinician, Physiotherapy Department, The Royal Women’s Hospital, VIC.